Zero Mountain, Inc., founded in Johnson (Washington County) in 1955, is a company specializing in cold storage. It provides 30 million cubic feet of controlled-temperature storage to companies like Cargill, Simmons, Walmart Inc., Tyson, and ConAgra. It is the only company of its type in Arkansas.
The idea for a sub-zero processing and storage vault in northwest Arkansas took hold when George Bazore Sr., a local businessman, visited a Kansas City cold storage facility in 1951. Bazore, C. A. Stump, Joseph Rumsey, and Price Dickson worked for four years to create the facility. Bazore had attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) and was familiar with the area’s hills and valleys. When he saw an abandoned limestone quarry in Johnson, he began the process of leasing the area. At that time, only three other facilities of this type existed in the United States.
The cold storage facility that Zero Mountain provided turned out to be a much needed operation as northwest Arkansas became the largest poultry processor in the nation. Zero Mountain was designed primarily to serve broiler chicken and turkey producers, with the idea of possibly serving fruit and vegetable growers. Northwest Arkansas poultry producers were able to store their product locally instead of shipping it out of state, with the Arkansas and Missouri Railway providing rail service to the facility.
The below-ground location meant that the refrigerator units did not have to work as hard, but Zero Mountain still had its share of troubles in the beginning. It even failed to make a profit until 1966. The facility struggled with too much moisture. Repeated freezing and thawing weakened the ceiling. One storage room caved in and flooded after it had to be thawed. New technology helped solve these problems. By 1968, the company was shipping frozen products to every state in the United States. George Bazore Jr., who was serving as a vice president and general manager of the company, was soon asked to supervise the business. Bazore Jr. had been a refrigeration instructor at Oklahoma City University.
Zero Mountain was classified as a fallout shelter in the 1960s amid the tension of the Cold War and was the largest of several fallout shelter sites in Washington County. One of the storage caves was filled with batteries, food, water, medical and sanitation equipment, and radiological instruments. Those supplies at Zero Mountain were removed in 1973.
In 1986, Zero Mountain expanded to 275,000 square feet of storage space that could hold up to 44 million pounds of frozen food. The company, now based in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), employs approximately 225 people and provides over 30 million cubic feet of controlled-temperature storage in Fort Smith, Johnson, Lowell (Benton County), Russellville (Pope County), and North Little Rock (Pulaski County). The company has grown to a $50 million industry that can freeze, store, and ship over 2.5 billion pounds of food annually. While the Fayetteville location is the only facility underground, the new technology available makes the other locations just has efficient.
On January 7, 2019, Zero Mountain announced a merger with Cloverleaf Cold Storage of Sioux City, Iowa. Together, the companies will possess 140 million cubic feet of storage capacity in nine states.
For additional information:
Asher, Gilbert. “Cavern Becomes Vast ‘Freezer.’” Tulsa Sunday World. January 8, 1956.
Carl, Floyd, Jr. “Limestone Quarry at Johnson Converted into Cold Storage Plant, Only Such Project in State.” Northwest Arkansas Times. January 14, 1956, p. 3.
Edmisten, Bob. “Cavern Serves as Giant Deep Freeze.” Springdale News. May 20, 1968.
Johnson, Mary E. “Johnson Shelter Awaited ‘Big One’ 25 Years Ago.” Northwest Arkansas Times. June 17, 1989, p. 9A.
Parks, Michelle. “Mark Briscoe Rumsey Can-do Guy.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette Northwest Edition. August 17, 2008, p. 1D.
Robinson, Deborah. “Inside Zero Mountain.” Northwest Arkansas Times. July 18, 1986, pp. 1,3.
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I am the granddaughter of Jack Reed Sr. The land that Zero Mountain was on was owned by him, including the limestone quarry. I grew up thinking that he was also involved in the idea for Zero, but I never see his name mentioned.